A coalition of US animal rights groups have urged politicians to dismiss a so-called "ag-gag bill", which would make it impossible to carry out undercover investigations on farms in the state of New Hampshire.
Bill 110, which is currently awaiting a hearing by the New Hampshire Environment and Agriculture House Committee, would require anyone who films or photographs animal welfare abuse against livestock to submit the recordings to a law enforcement agency within 24 hours of the recording’s creation.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Farm Sanctuary, Mercy For Animals, Compassion Over Killing, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association have asked the Committee to reject the bill on the grounds that it would essentially make undercover welfare investigations on farms, which are often filmed over a period of several months, illegal in the state.
"This bill punishes whistleblowers and endangers the public by hiding animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, food safety issues and environmental problems on industrial farms, and The Humane Society of the United States calls on House Environment and Agriculture Committee to oppose it," said Joanne Bourbeau, north-eastern regional director for The HSUS.
The New Hampshire bill is one of a number of proposed ag-gag bills that have been introduced in the US recently. Some of these criminalise photo-taking on farms, while others make it a crime for whistleblowers to gain employment on farms, and others impose reporting requirements that would make investigations impossible.
The first ag-gag bills were introduced in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, and New York in 2011, but none were passed. Last year, 10 states introduced similar bills, but only two were passed, in Iowa and Utah. Welfare groups argue that while these bills vary, they all have the same intent of shielding animal agribusiness and punishing whistleblowers.
"Under the guise of property rights, ag-gag bills are intended to prevent consumers from ever seeing the animal abuse, contaminated crops, illegal working conditions and food safety problems that are commonly found on industrial farms," said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
It is not just animal welfare groups that have opposed ag-gag legislation. A group of national interest rights including animal protection, civil liberties, public health, food safety, environmental, food justice, legal, workers’ rights and freedom of speech organisations recently published a statement of opposition to the bills.
"We, the undersigned group of civil liberties, public health, food safety, environmental, food justice, animal welfare, legal, workers’ rights, journalism, and First Amendment organizations and individuals, hereby state our opposition to proposed whistleblower suppression laws, known as ‘ag-gag’ bills, being introduced in states around the country. These bills seek to criminalize investigations of farms that reveal critical information about the production of animal products," it said.
"These bills represent a wholesale assault on many fundamental values shared by all people across the United States. Not only would these bills perpetuate animal abuse on industrial farms, they would also threaten workers’ rights, consumer health and safety, law enforcement investigations and the freedom of journalists, employees and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply. We call on state legislators around the nation to drop or vote against these dangerous and un-American efforts."